How to Define Your Differences for a Competitive Advantage

To make an impact in your market your competitive advantage must have four characteristics

Recently I was presenting to a national association’s annual conference near Las Vegas. The presentation was entitled, “Selling in a Tough Economy.” This presentation discussed the status quo of our economy and then described why some marketing representatives (fancy word for salesman) and companies, inspite of the challenging times, are successful and others are not!

One of the focal points of the presentation was the need to differentiate. One of the points we discussed is that if your differentiation is only price then get ready to start losing margin. Unless you are Walmart and have the economies of scale to have the lowest costs for your products, you need to be able to differentiate your product or services from the competition by some other means than price.

I have talked to many customers and worked with them in regards to doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. When we discuss their strengths, many times I hear things such as customer service, quality, and responsiveness. These are all excellent qualities of a company’s product or service. However, can you envision my client’s competitors suggesting that they provide bad customer service, poor quality or slow responsiveness? Of course not! The question is how do you differentiate? What are your competitive advantages? How do you substantiate your claims?

The ground rules for outlining these "differentiators," as I call them, or your competitive advantages as defined by Jaynie Smith in her book Creating Competitive Advantage are, your competitive advantage needs to be:

* Objective not subjective

* Quantifiable, not arbitrary. "We have great customer service, 95% of our business comes from referrals."

* Not already claimed by the competition

* Not a cliché. Don’t tell me you exceed customer expectations. How do you know what these expectations are?

How is your business? Are sales down? Do you have some new wrinkles in your sales message that are different than last year? If you do things the same way you will probably get the same or similar results. Is that what you are looking for the remainder of 2011 and into 2012?

Or, are you and your team able to enunciate your differentiators/competitive advantages? Seems to me that no matter what industry you are in, unless you run the Walmart of that industry you might want to invest some time first identifying your competitive advantages and then figuring out a way to communicate these to your current customers as well as your prospective customers. The other alternative, assuming you have plenty of margin left, is to continue to give it away!

Roger Bostdorff, president of B2B Sales Boost, has more than 30 year' experience with IBM in sales and sales management. B2B Sales Boost is a consulting company helping organizations improve their sales and overall business processes. Visit or call 419-351-4347 for more information. To receive the B2B Sales Boost Newsletter send an email to [email protected].